If I Strike a Horse or Cow in a Roadway, Who is Liable?

Posted: July 31, 2022

cows in a roadStriking livestock in a roadway happens more often than people think. Similar to crashing into a deer, the animal can cause extensive damage to your vehicle, and may possibly result in serious injuries for the vehicle’s occupants. But, who is at fault after striking a cow or horse in the roadway?

“Strict Liability” Claims

Before a relatively recent change in the law, owners of livestock could be held liable for injuries inflicted by their animals based only on a “strict liability” theory. This theory, among other things, requires a showing that the owner was aware of the animal’s “vicious propensities.” Therefore, an injured person had to prove that the animal owner was aware of the animal’s “aggressive” or “threatening” nature to recover compensation for personal injuries, even though it may have been foreseeable that a failure to fix a perimeter fence or properly secure livestock would result in the animal entering the roadway and hurting someone.  

This strict liability rule did not provide a means of compensation where a person sustained injury from an animal of a non-vicious nature that, due to the negligence of its owner, posed a risk of danger. Motorists who sustained injuries after striking farm animals in the road generally had little recourse when the only available claim was a “strict liability” claim.   

Negligence Claims

However, in 2013 the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, created an exception to that rule. The Court held that, “a landowner or the owner of an animal may be liable under ordinary tort-law principles when a farm animal—i.e., a domestic animal as that term is defined in Agriculture and Markets Law § 108 (7)—is negligently allowed to stray from the property on which the animal is kept.” Thus, injured motorists may now, in certain cases, circumvent the “strict liability” rule detailed above.    

To bring such a claim against an animal owner or a landowner, the injured motorist must show that the animal was permitted to stray into the roadway through the negligence of the animal owner or the property owner. An animal owner or landowner may be negligent, and thus liable for resulting injuries, if the farm animal was not properly secured or monitored. This may occur when livestock restraints such as barn doors and fences are broken or frail. It may also occur when those charged with overseeing the livestock neglect to regularly ensure that the animals are confined to their secure locations. In fact, evidence of a horse or cow in the road generally gives rise to an inference of negligence, putting the burden of explanation on the animal owner or landowner: Why and how did the animal get onto the road?   

Hit a Horse or Cow With Your Car? Call William Mattar.

If you were injured in a car accident involving a horse, cow, or other farm animal and are seeking a lawyer feel free to contact William Mattar, P.C. Our experienced car accident attorneys are happy to review your case to see whether we can help.  Call today at (844) 444-4444.

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